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2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: Toronto Maple Leafs

How they did last season: 29-42-11 (69 points), 8th in the Atlantic, 16th in the Eastern Conference. Did not make the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: C Auston Matthews, LW Matt Martin, D Roman Polak, D Nikita Zaitsev, G Frederik Andersen, G Jhonas Enroth

Notable departures: RW Michael Grabner, RW P.A. Parenteau, D Stuart Percy, G Jonathan Bernier

When they will play the Caps: Nov. 26 in Toronto; Jan. 3 in Washington; April 4 in Toronto

RELATED: CAPS' HOLTBY BEGINS RAMPING UP FOR WORLD CUP

Analysis: Get coach of the future: check.

Get potential star in the draft: check.

Get a starter in net: check.

The rebuild seems to be going just fine thus far in Toronto. After what we all expected to be a tough season, Toronto finished with the worst record in the league. Remarkably, Edmonton didn’t win the top overall pick for once and the Maple Leafs got the chance to select the top player in the draft, Auston Matthews.

Matthews does not appear to be one of those “generational” talents like Connor McDavid, but still looks like he will be a very good player. He will join a stable of young talent that the Leafs hope to develop this year such as William Nylander and Mitch Marner.

Mercifully, the Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer goalie tandem is no more. Instead, the Leafs have bet the farm on Frederik Andersen as they traded a first-round and a second-round draft pick to Anaheim to get him. That’s a pretty big price tag for a goalie who I’m not all that convinced can be more than just an average starter. With Jhonas Enroth as his backup, he’s clearly the top guy and will be expected to start 55-60 games.

The trade was also curious in terms of timing because the Leafs are still quite a ways away from being anything close to competitive for a playoff spot. It seems a bit odd to bring in a 26-year-old netminder to be the goalie of the future when the future is still probably another two or more years away.

All that said, Andersen is certainly better than what they had.

Season prediction: This is a critical year for Toronto not because they are going to do anything in the standings, but because they can’t lose sight of the overall goal.

The worst and hardest part of a rebuild is not tearing the team down, it’s building it back up. They have young talent, now they have to develop it. That means there will be more growing pains as the team turns its roster over to inexperienced youngsters.

One need only look at the team’s cap situation to understand what this season means for Toronto. Brooks Laich and Joffrey Lupul are still on the books as well as Nathan Horton and Stephane Robidas, two players who will never step foot on the ice. Those aren’t the kind of contracts you find on the rosters of teams looking for a playoff push.

The goal for this season is not to win, it's to develop players like Matthews, Nylander and Marner as well as determine if Andersen is indeed good enough to carry the load as a starter by himself. The fans and the management need to keep sight of the overall goal of rebuiling the team and be patient.

Patience, however, can sometimes be a struggle in Toronto.

MORE HOCKEY: DIPAULI LIKED THE 'FIT' IN PITTSBURGH BETTER

2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
— Montreal Canadiens
— Ottawa Senators
Tampa Bay Lightning

Metropolitan Division
— Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
— Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
— New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
— New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
— New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming soon)

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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